The huge blast during the morning rush hour caused panic in much of central Kabul, shattering windows as far as a mile away. Nearly two hours after the explosion near Zanbaq Square, a crowded area in the capital that leads to the presidential palace as well as major foreign embassies, plumes of smoke were still rising from the scene.
Kabul’s police chief, Gen. Hassan Shah Frogh, said the explosives had been in a tanker truck used to empty septic wells. The bomb was detonated near the square just as the street turns toward the German Embassy, he said.
“The blast was so huge that it dug a big crater as deep as four meters,” or 13 feet, General Frogh said.
Wahidullah Majrooh, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said that 80 bodies and 350 wounded people had been brought to hospitals.
The German Embassy suffered extensive damage, with dozens of windows blown in, the public broadcaster ARD reported. It broadcast images showing stunned civilians pressing makeshift bandages to bloody limbs, stumbling through a smoke-filled street as ambulances rushed to the scene, their sirens blaring.
Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said that an Afghan security guard employed by the embassy had been killed. He also said that several Germans had been wounded, without providing details. He condemned what he called an attack on “those who are in Afghanistan working with the people there for a better future.”
“To target these people is especially despicable,” Mr. Gabriel said.
But there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, and it was unclear whether the embassy had been specifically targeted.
President Ashraf Ghani called the attack “a crime against humanity.” A statement by Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the commander of American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, applauded the Afghan security forces for preventing the truck full of explosives from entering the Green Zone, a reference to the area that houses the headquarters of the coalition forces as well as several foreign embassies.
“The attack demonstrates a complete disregard for civilians and reveals the barbaric nature of the enemy faced by the Afghan people,” the statement said.
Pictures from the scene showed smoke and chaos, with bloodied people on the ground as emergency personnel tried to evacuate victims. Video footage that witnesses filmed immediately after the blast showed vast destruction to the buildings in the area and people stuck in destroyed vehicles amid flames.
There was a heavy security presence, including forces from the United States-led coalition, and helicopters circled overhead. Dozens of people waited outside the large security cordon for news of their loved ones.
Emotions were running high among the Afghan security forces at the scene. Intelligence officers closely checked the paperwork of emergency workers shuttling between the blast site and the hospitals, fearing that they might have been infiltrated by militants planning a follow-up attack.
At one point, after a senior police official tried to pass the cordon with a large entourage of guards, a scuffle broke out, and the police officers and intelligence officers cocked their weapons at one another. But the situation was quickly defused.
The sheer scale of the blast was staggering, though it was not unprecedented. In 2015, a similar truck bombing in the Shah Shaheed neighborhood of the city also caused hundreds of casualties and left a strip of shops leveled and houses in a wide radius damaged. Other large truck bombings have targeted the offices of an elite force that provides security to senior government officials, as well as a compound for Western contractors.
Shopkeepers as far as a mile from the scene of Wednesday’s blast were sweeping glass from shattered windows, as parents arrived to escort panicking children home from school.
“There was a big tremble, and then we heard a massive explosion,” said Ramin Sangar, a cameraman at a television channel near the site of the explosion, as he was loaded into an ambulance. “All the windows are broken. Our studios collapsed.”
In Germany, the blast was sure to fuel a debate over the government’s efforts to repatriate Afghans whose applications for asylum have been rejected. About 1,000 German soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO force, and Germany has invested billions in military and aid to stabilize the country.
German officials have been at pains to insist parts of Afghanistan are safe, despite an overall security situation that the interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, has described as “complicated.” A flight carrying deportees was scheduled to take off from Germany for Afghanistan on Wednesday.
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul, and Melissa Eddy from Berlin.Read More...
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